Taming the Toy Room

It started with a basket…

A cute, simple white basket that I’d gotten as a baby shower gift, and it held all of our toys and stuffies for baby Owen!  That was enough for the first few months…especially since he spent most of his time in the huge swing we had for him, or on the rocking chair we had crammed into our family room.  Then, as he got older, we quickly found that the basket was not enough to contain the toys and books that seemed to multiply each day.

It started with one–the Ikea Kallax shelving unit.  Feeling a little silly for getting something so big, we bought one and managed to fit it into our crowded family room.  I got more baskets to store the toys, and kept his books on other shelves.

To my great surprise, this shelving unit was quickly filled up with toys, games and books for Owen!  Having a grandpa who loves shopping at thrift stores and finding great deals, and a grandma who was a preschool teacher for her entire career, we were gifted lots of great educational toys and activities!  I also love buying second-hand books and toys from other parents on Facebook, so I definitely contributed to this enormous collection.

Before we could tame toy mountain, we were struck with great news…we found out we were pregnant again, and with a girl!  This caused us all to feel the need to buy girl versions of Owen’s favorite toys. It wasn’t long before the collection had almost doubled–even before she arrived!

Overwhelmed with trying to stuff these toys into the now two small bins, we finally surrendered our office/living room space to something we never thought we’d have: a playroom.  Yes, not only did these tiny humans take up our bedrooms but they also now needed a room just to house all their toys!

Fast forward a couple years of doing the same thing, and, as you can probably guess, we actually had more toys than could fit in our playroom.  A big room FULL of toys was still NOT enough space!!! If that wasn’t frustrating enough, the kids would only play with about 20% of the toys we were begrudgingly storing!

That’s when I knew things HAD to change!  After Christmas last year, faced with finding homes for all their new toys in our already overflowing playroom, I finally tamed my play room, and you can too!

There are two main steps to tame your play room.  The first is to get rid of toys your kids don’t use anymore or have outgrown, and the second is to organize and rotate the toys you keep so that your children have a diverse choice of toys to interact with.

Step 1: The Great Toy Escape (Yup, like the Toy Story Movie.  But hopefully your toys won’t come back…)

I’m not gonna lie.  This was not an easy task.  I did it over the holidays when I had some time off of work, and while it was not the ideal way to relax, I felt a million times better after I was done!

For this step, get all your kids’ toys together in one place, and start going through them.  You will be sorting your toys into 4 different piles: throw away, giveaway, rotate, and play.  Use these questions to help decide where each toy should go!

  1. Is this toy still in good condition?
    This step is where I get rid of all of the whistles, spider rings, and other party favor cheap toys that my kids accumulated throughout the year.  If they are still usable, I might donate them, but a lot are usually destroyed. I also check to make sure that puzzles and board games have all their pieces, and that there are no broken cars or other toys hanging around.  If the toy is not in good condition to be played with for another year, then it does not need to take up the limited space in my playroom! Toys that are in bad condition should go in the throw away pile.
  2. Is this toy still age appropriate?
    Although it’s kinda sad and emotional for me to box up the baby toys, and to put away the duplos to make room for the smaller size legos, I know that’s what best for my kids!  Of course I want them to grow and develop appropriate to their age level, and since play is critical to a child’s development, I need to make sure that my kids have access to age appropriate toys!  That doesn’t mean immediately tossing all games ages 2-4 when your child is 5, but it does mean looking at each item and assessing your child’s interest in it and how appropriate it is for your kids’ current ages.  Toys that are too young for your child should go in the giveaway pile.If your kids are very young and you do this while they are sleeping or gone, they may not notice anything is gone!  If your kids are older, it’s a great opportunity to start teaching them about giving to other kids who don’t have a lot of toys.  You can tell your 4-year-old that that toy was for when they were 3 years old, and now that they are bigger, the toy needs another 3 year old to play with it!  Some kids will handle this better than others, and it may take time. It’s up to you how involved you want your kids to be in this process. If your kids are involved, you can use their input to help you go through the toys!
  3. Ask your child what their favorite 3 toys are.
    You can do this before you start, or once you have all the toys out you can let them look around and pick their three favorites.  Be aware, that once all the toys are visible, your kids may start playing with a toy that they have never liked, just because they haven’t seen it in a while.  Do not be deterred; stay firm on your mission. Put the 3 toys they choose in the “play” pile.
  4. Ask your child to pick 3 toys to giveaway to another child.
    Let your child be involved in choosing toys to giveaway!  This will make it much more meaningful to them. It will also let you know which type of toys they are no longer interested in.  Put these toys in the giveaway pile.

Now you can sort the toys out by category.  Put all the cars together, all the puzzles together, all the action figures together, all the blocks together, all pretend food together, etc.  Assess each category. Last year I realized that we had 4 bins full of cars; which is way more cars than any two children need to play with! They still really liked playing with cars so I did not get rid of all of them, but I went through and had them help me pick their favorites to keep, and then we gave the rest away.  If your child has two different kinds of blocks, you can ask them to choose one to keep. If they have way too much pretend play food, you can go through and keep their favorites. The point here is to get rid of categories that your child is not interested in anymore, and to pare down the categories that they do like so there is not quite so much in it.

Here’s where the “play” pile and “rotate” pile comes in handy.  As I mentioned, kids favorite toys are almost always the new, exciting, or different toys.  The new quickly wears off and then the toys start to gather dust. One way to use this “new toy” excitement is to rotate the toys your child has access to.  Toys that they haven’t seen in a month can be almost as exciting as brand new toys! So for all the toys that you want to keep for your child, put most in the “play” pile that you will organize in your toy area, and then put some aside in a “rotate” pile.  The rotate pile should contain toys that are age appropriate and that your child likes, but when you pull this box out in a month (and refill it with other toys from the toy area) then your kids will be a lot more excited to play with them! A regular toy rotation can be a great way to reduce clutter and increase your child’s excitement and engagement with their toys!

If possible, take the toys to be donated to a local thrift store or other community agency with your children, as soon as possible.  The giveaway process will be more meaningful for your child if they see that their toys are actually going somewhere to help someone else.  This will also prevent what too often happens in my house, where the giveaway bag sits there gathering dust and you’ve just moved the clutter around instead of getting rid of it.

You got this mama!  Stick with it and you will love the calm of having a clutter-free toy area!